In two days, my family will embark on a summer road trip. We will drive across five states and into Canada–a first for the kids, ages 10 and 13. We’ll ride the best roller coasters in the US, Jet Ski on Lake Erie, get wet at Niagara Falls, and visit my alma mater.
We will also log 24 hours together in the car. That’s a lot of family time.
Luckily we’ve had some experience with kids and cars, and the highs and lows that come with the right of passage that is The Family Road Trip. Here are a few tricks to keep everyone sane and (reasonably) happy across the miles:
1. The Activity Crate
Fill a milk-crate-style box with every unused activity book that has been sitting around your house for who knows how long. Pack crayons, markers, and blank pads. Stock up on new books from their favorite series. Throw in the iPods and PSPs. It’s a treasure trove of anti-boredom. It can even double as a barrier: nestle that box in between the kiddos to keep the “He’s touching me!” and “She’s on my side!” complaints at bay.
2. Constant Updates
You might have been planning this trip for months, but the kids haven’t. Communicate the milestones along the way: “Only an hour until we are in New Jersey!” and “We’re half way there!” will help your passengers to feel involved and informed. You can even make a “bet” on the arrival time. Winner picks what’s for dinner.
3. The Snack Stash
Goodies are essential for everyone’s happiness. Guarded by the passenger-seat rider, your stash should include low-sugar, caffeine-free treats. Don’t announce all of the offerings at once. Strategically suggest that it’s time for some watermelon, then maybe an hour later bust out the Teddy Grahams. Be cautious with the drinks, unless you want to spend a lot of time in rest stops. Also, add one out-of-the-norm “special” treat to the mix. If you usually cringe at requests for beef jerky, let it slide just this once.
4. Technology is Your Friend
If you are lucky enough to have a car with a dvd player, this is the time to use it. If not (we don’t), books on CD can be a nice shared experience to pass the time. In our car, Tuck Everlasting, A House Called Awful End, and the Harry Potter series have been well received by both kids and adults. And though I’m not a fan of too much “screen” time, handheld video games can be a lifesaver on the road. It’s not like they could be outside riding their bikes, so charge up the Gameboy and enjoy the peace.
5. Know Your Route
Some say that getting lost is the best part of traveling. Not with two hungry, fidgety children who have found kicking your seat to be highly entertaining. Plan your route well, plot out possible stopping points for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. And be very cautious of going “just one more exit”–on major turnpikes and thruways, that could be upwards of 30 miles.
Also, enjoy it. When you arrive at your destination, the days are likely to be busy, filled with plans.
Embrace the time you have to just sit still and be together.